On the banks of Lake Huron in a small, remote Canadian town about an hour’s drive from London, Ontario, sits a regal summer house.
The Lake Huron residence marks South African firm SAOTA’s Canadian debut, and while the architectural context might be characterised as a somewhat conservative “cabin country”, this house attempts to extend the possibilities of the traditional lakeside family retreat through a contemporary architectural approach that still connects meaningfully with its beautiful natural setting. Scroll through the gallery below (Photography: Adam Letch; Production: Emily Leung) to find out more about the stunning design:
“The original space was dishevelled and neglected, but the potential was obvious,” says Mark Bullivant, director at SAOTA. “Navigating the winding roads to arrive at the lake was a wonderful experience. Our first visit was mid-winter, plenty of snow and a frozen lake – dressed in our client’s winter gear; us South Africans were out of our comfort zone!”
Located on an eroded bank, the site is a transient space between water and wood, rising 3.5 metres from road level and then dropping down to the water to create a grassy embankment. The building is set back on the property towards the street to preserve the natural bluff.
“The clients were very specific with their brief and requirements – they came to us with post-its on a site plan that is not too far off where we ended up,” recalls Bullivant. “The aspect of the property was the primary driver for the building massing – taking advantage of the southern aspect, and creating a large outdoor space for enjoying long summer afternoons on the lake.”
On the front, the Lake Huron residence is largely concealed by mature fir trees, appearing as a simple light-coloured stone box floating effortlessly between the tree trunks. The rear of the house dissolves into a two-storey wall of glass washing natural light deep into the interiors.
Conceptually, the design consists of a series of stacked and suspended rectangular boxes, one embedding the building into the ground plane, the other suspended overhead to allow the living level to exist between the volumes. An indoor/outdoor volume to the south anchors the building and maximises the site’s lakeside views while allowing the living spaces to occupy the foreground. From the threshold, a dramatic triple-volume atrium lets in natural light and draws the eye outwards towards the view.
“This space is the main knuckle of the house; spatially and architecturally, and where all the design elements converge,” says Bullivant. “The screen element was very complex for everyone, and the result is spectacular. It also forms the backdrop for our favourite space; the informal seating area facing the kitchen island – which like any home is where the action is; just here you can enjoy it in comfort.” Keeping with the client brief, the spaces are fluid, the levels easy to navigate and the layout simple and well-structured, allowing for a casual atmosphere. The vast central volume is subtly contrasted with more intimate and contained volumes in the kitchen and other living spaces for a varied and articulated spatial experience.
The upper-level housing the master bedroom is devoted entirely to the owners’ private space, including an office and a gym. To the front of the house, a covered outdoor entertainment area flanks a swimming pool. A boardwalk and staircase descend to a refurbished cabin that predated the house, and now houses a guest suite and additional outdoor entertainment area to facilitate long summer days playing on the lake.
Identified as the clients’ favourite room, the ‘engine room’ on the lowest floor, which houses all the building services infrastructure. Quoting Bullivant: “The husband has a high affinity for technology and is a self-proclaimed ‘early adopter’ and considers automation a hobby; so the engineering systems are highly sophisticated and all controlled by his phone – this was something he drove and great to have such a high level of buy-in from the client with regards to the implementation of these systems.”
A commercial-grade Building Automation System (BAS) controls and monitors the home. The power supply for the house is provided by a 15-kilowatt solar array, with excess power regularly fed back into the utility grid for credit and later use. The limited municipal infrastructure for stormwater and sewer resulted in an on-property underground stormwater system that can handle a 100-year storm and an eco-flo septic system to deal with all sewer requirements.
The finishes, externally and internally, favour a ceramic panelled system robust and hard-wearing enough to prove long-lasting in the extremes of the Canadian climate, which together with the home’s energy efficiency and the general longevity of the project and its materials, components and fittings contribute to its sustainability.